The IED attack in Upper Dir that resulted in martyrdom of senior Army officers/soldiers as well as the suicide strike on the Peshawar church, which targeted innocent Pakistani Christians, both are condemnable in strongest possible terms. The church massacre was particularly aimed to lower Pakistan’s image internationally just days before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s address at UN General Assembly.

The state should give a befitting response to perpetrators of these attacks to let them know that when they hit the Army or civilians and accept responsibility, there will be serious consequences.

While the Upper Dir and Peshawar tragedies served the militants’ purpose to generate public sentiments against peace with taliban, these acts should not distract us from the All Parties Conference (APC) conscious national decision to give peace a chance through political efforts. This was the result of consensus between the political parties with Army Chief and DG ISI on board.

The state’s offer of dialogue followed by Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP)’s positive initial response came in the backdrop of Army’s successful offensive against Hakeem ullah Mehsud’s armed followers in Khyber Agency’s strategic Tirah valley that led to heavy TTP losses as well as their eviction from this area.

The TTP’s demands would most likely include among others, general amnesty, unconditional release of their armed followers, withdrawal of Army from Fata and imposition of shariah. While the government’s effort would be to work on a bare minimum acceptable agenda, it is not likely to accede to any TTP demand that conflicts with the state’s sovereignty, constitution and law.

The TTP’s reported demand for Army’s withdrawal from Fata is an illegitimate one as Fata is a federal territory and cannot be handed over to local criminals/terrorists in a platter. Pakistan like any other sovereign country will not allow a state within the state.

The TTP should withdraw its support to non taliban criminal/sectarian groups. Moreover all foreign fighters sheltered under TTP umbrella in Fata will have to surrender or leave Fata towards other safe havens abroad.

The dialogue’s success would depend greatly on the degree of dissension caused within TTP ranks/groups and the extent to which criminal elements are isolated within TTP so that the core taliban group can then be engaged constructively.

There will be attempts by vested forces to obstruct and derail this peace process. Those militant groups that are bent upon creating anarchy and lawlessness in the country with material support from hostile anti Pakistan agencies from across Afghanistan and India, will continue to destabilize Pakistan. They must be denied an environment that helps to achieve their objectives.

The two US drone strikes in South Waziristan that coincided with the Peshawar church tragedy indicate that in line with its past history of sabotaging our peace agreements in Fata, the possibility of fresh drone onslaught against Haqqani/TTP leaders at crucial time cannot be ruled out.

The Indian media has recently spilled the beans and confirmed what Pakistani authorities have been highlighting since long about Indian involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan. The military intelligence unit (Technical Services Division-TSD) set up by former Indian army chief General VK Singh undertook sensitive covert operations including ‘Operation Deep Strike’ in Pakistan.

Thanks to the ‘internecine battle’ and rivalry between Gen V K Singh and current Indian Army chief General Bikram Singh, which made this revelation possible. There remains no doubt that terrorist strikes against Navy’s Mehran and PAF’s Kamra bases, in which few of our strategic airborne warning assets like American supplied P3-C Orions and a Swedish Saab aircraft got destroyed, were the work of TSD in coordination with their local agents.

Pakistanis should beware of vested anti-dialogue elements within country desperate to declare the peace talks a non starter even when these have yet to commence.

The KPK government backed out of its reported decision for the Army’s phased withdrawal from Malakand/Swat starting from Shangla and Buner in first phase. Though principally correct, any hasty Army pullout is fraught with serious dangers.

The Peshawar High Court has rightly restrained KPK government from seeking Army’s withdrawal till necessary legislation is in place to prosecute large number of militants/detainees reportedly held in Army’s internment centres in Swat and Malakand. The Army should go ahead with its long term plans to establish a military cantonment in Swat to ensure permanent peace in the valley.

Why should peace be given a chance? As the US/NATO forces begin their drawdown from Afghanistan, why should Pakistan remain on fire? We should have dissociated long ago from this war that was never ours but was thrust on us by United States.

With over 40,000 of our countrymen including around 7000 brave officers/soldiers sacrificed in this senseless war, with over a 100 billion dollars loss to country’s economy and our social fabric torn apart, it is time we adopted a saner approach.

Fata must be economically developed and integrated in the federation. The affectees of war on terror, the drone victims’ families in particular should be compensated/rehabilitated and our tribals brought in mainstream.

The TTP spokesman’s denial of any involvement in the Peshawar church tragedy should be taken with a pinch of salt because we must never forget this is the same outfit that has killed hundreds and thousands of innocent Pakistanis and would do everything for the purpose of deception. The government as well as TTP should make public their negotiating teams as well as interlocutors for the peace talks as early as possible. The nation should be kept informed about the back channel results as well as ground rules of the dialogue process.

The road to peace with Pakistani Taliban may be long and arduous. It will be a bumpy ride, not a smooth one. There will be successes and failures, hopes and frustrations, that are typical of such difficult and complex negotiations.

The use of military force remains the last resort till all political/dialogue options are exhausted. The TTP must realize that the state’s might is unchallengeable and that even after twelve years of waging war against the state, it failed to impose its ideology or weaken the will of the people. The ball is now in the TTP’s court.

The writer is a political and defence analyst.